Let’s Make “Fukushima” a Positive Word

Ōtomo Yoshihide, internationally famous as a musician in genres including noise music and free improvisation, introduces Project <em>Fukushima</em>! On August 15 the organization plans to stage a festival in Fukushima, with simultaneous events to be held all around the world, to focus attention on the situation in the area following the nuclear power plant accident.

Ōtomo Yoshihide, internationally famous as a musician in genres including noise music and free improvisation, introduces Project Fukushima! On August 15 the organization plans to stage a festival in Fukushima, with simultaneous events to be held all around the world, to focus attention on the situation in the area following the nuclear power plant accident.

Festival Fukushima! This is the name of the festival we are staging in the city of Fukushima (capital of Fukushima Prefecture) on August 15. The principal venue will be the Village of Four Seasons (Shiki no Sato) park in the city. In addition to musicians, the participants will include artists, poets, and ordinary citizens. Using a variety of expressive channels, they will deliver their messages about the action we can take to address the situation in Fukushima today.

Delivering a Message from Fukushima

“Let’s join with the people of Fukushima in thinking about how to interpret what’s happening there now and how to confront this reality squarely.” This was the appeal that went out to invite people to form an executive committee for the festival. The committee is co-headed by Wagō Ryōichi, a poet living in the city of Fukushima, the musician Endō Michirō, who was born and raised in the neighboring city of Nihonmatsu, and me.

Since the March 11 earthquake, Wagō-san has been posting a series of poems on Twitter under the title “Shi no tsubute” (Pebbles of Poetry). These have attracted a major response. Endō-san is a famous musician; he was the founder and vocalist of the legendary punk rock band The Stalin (1980–85). I was born in Yokohama, but my family moved to Fukushima because of my father’s job when I was in third grade, and I lived there for 10 years until I went away to college. My parents still live there today.

The three of us formed “Project Fukushima!” to serve as the organizational base for our activities and planned Festival Fukushima! in the hope of using “culture power” to break out of the grim status quo. But after visiting the city a number of times and seeing how atrocious the conditions were, I realized that this sort of woolly thinking wasn’t going to be enough.

Help from an Expert Scientist

I embarked on an all-out search for information about radioactive contamination. But the information I found about the impact of the nuclear accident was inconsistent, and I was confounded by the differences between what the government was saying and the flood of information on the Internet. I didn’t know what to believe. If we were serious about carrying out a project in Fukushima, I thought, we were going to need support from an expert on radiation. But I had no idea who I could trust.

Then I saw a program on NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) about a collaborative effort to map the contamination caused by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The program introduced Kimura Shinzō, a scientist specializing in radiation hygiene. Kimura-san is an expert on the effects of radiation on human beings; he formerly worked at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, where he was on the research team for the Tōkaimura nuclear accident (1999). After being transferred to a research center at the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, he visited Chernobyl to conduct his own research on the nuclear accident there. He handed in his resignation earlier this year when he was ordered not to undertake independent research into radiation levels after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Seeing his story as presented on this program, I felt that this was someone whose words I could trust.

I was able to meet Kimura-san through the intermediation of an NHK director participating in Project Fukushima! After listening to our concerns, he went to the site to check the radiation levels. The news was good. He said that we could and should hold the festival at the Village of Four Seasons. As he put it, the disaster victims shouldn’t just practice gaman, gritting their teeth and enduring their troubles; they need to get out and get going. “That’s what we specialists are here for,” he said. His words brought tears to my eyes.

What he was proposing was not that we should go ahead with the festival regardless of the risks but that we should work together based on the scientific data to conduct relief activities in Fukushima into the future. As he pointed out, the effects of radiation do not disappear after a year or two; they can continue for decades or even centuries. He suggested using the upcoming festival as a forum for presenting the issues involved. The sincere advice he offered as a scientist was absolutely crucial for our project. Without it, we might never have made it to the starting line.

It’s Not Just About Fukushima

My biggest concern at this point is to deal with the crisis at hand. Specifically, I want to find a way of limiting the impact on people living in areas where no evacuation advisory has been issued even though the soil has become seriously contaminated. I want to see the radiation levels measured and appropriate steps taken without delay. Moving away from the area may be the best answer, but it’s not easy for people to leave their homes. The country as a whole needs to act with urgency to find ways of minimizing the impact on those who are unable to move and to stop the radioactive contamination from spreading any further.

The biggest problem for the future is internal radiation exposure caused by cesium entering the body through food and other sources. I sincerely hope it will be possible to stop this sort of exposure before it is too late. The top priority is to make sure that food products with radiation levels exceeding government standards are not sold or eaten. This will require each of us to acquire accurate information and knowledge about radioactive contamination and measures to deal with it, along with rigorous action by the national government and other public authorities. It is still not too late—provided we start addressing the issue seriously now.

I’m neither a scientist nor a politician, so there’s a limit to what I can do about measures to deal with the situation. But I do feel a sense of responsibility to spread the word about the terrible state of affairs in Fukushima. We’re hoping that nearly 10,000 people will attend the festival on August 15. I am sure that as soon as people decide to come, their thinking will change on all kinds of questions. Is it safe to travel to Fukushima? What are the biggest problems facing the prefecture now? What they can do to help? I want people to think about questions like these as issues that concern them too.

I intend to keep Project Fukushima! going based on a perspective that spans several decades. The upcoming festival is just a starting point. I hope that the Festival Fukushima! message will go forth simultaneously from many locations around the world. The issues we face are not just about Fukushima in Japan. This nuclear accident involves more than just the question of how to find energy sources for the future. It requires us to look at the structure we have built for our lives and reconsider it from its very foundations.

Project Fukushima! is involved in more than organizing the upcoming festival. Among our other activities, first I would mention Dommune Fukushima! We launched this on May 8 in cooperation with Dommune, a Tokyo-based Internet streaming channel with a tremendous global following, to serve as an independent medium for Fukushima to make itself heard around the world. It delivers a combination of live music and serious talk programs, and we intend to keep it going after the festival to transmit Fukushima’s voices to the world.

We are also organizing School Fukushima! as a forum for considering how to deal with the terrible situation that Fukushima faces. We plan to keep this going over the long term as well, inviting participants from Japan and other countries.

I hope that anyone interested in supporting Project Fukushima! will get in touch. Wherever in the world you happen to come from, and whatever form your participation may take, I hope you will help us to make “Fukushima” a positive word. (From the transcript of an interview conducted on June 26, 2011.)

Ōtomo YoshihideŌtomo Yoshihide

A musician active in a wide range of genres, from noise-heavy, high-volume works to jazz, song-based compositions, and film music. Frequently performs overseas, where he is known as one of “Japan’s two Ōtomos” (the other being Ōtomo Katsuhiro, creator of the manga Akira).

Project Fukushima! website